KUALA LUMPUR, MALAYSIA (BNO NEWS) — A Malaysia Airlines passenger plane carrying 239 people went missing early Saturday morning while flying over the South China Sea on a flight from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia to the Chinese capital of Beijing, officials said, adding that a search and rescue operation was underway.
The airline said Flight MH370, a Boeing 777-200 aircraft, had departed Kuala Lumpur at 12:41 a.m. local time on Saturday and was expected to land in Beijing at around 6:30 a.m. local time. It said Subang Air Traffic Control in Malaysia lost contact with the airliner at 2:40 a.m. when it was over the South China Sea in Vietnam-controlled airspace.
Vietnam’s Ministry of Defense said the plane had entered Vietnamese-controlled airspace off southernmost Ca Mau province for about one minute before contact was lost. “Then all contacts and radar signal were lost. There has not been an accurate determination of the aircraft’s position,” the ministry said, adding that rescue workers had been notified.
The Vietnamese newspaper Tuổi Trẻ, citing a navy statement, said Flight 370 had crashed approximately 153 nautical miles (300 kilometers) off the country’s Thổ Chu Islands. It gave no other details, and it was not immediately clear whether the apparent crash site was estimated based on the aircraft’s last known position or whether any wreckage had been found.
Malaysia Airlines said relatives of passengers may contact +603 7884 1234 for more information. “Malaysia Airlines is currently working with the authorities who have activated their Search and Rescue team to locate the aircraft. The airline will provide regular updates on the situation,” it said in a brief statement.
The search for the missing airliner appeared to focus on an area of the South China Sea, roughly halfway between Kota Bharu in the Malaysian state of Kelantan and Vietnam’s southernmost province of Ca Mau. At least Malaysia, Vietnam, and two maritime rescue vessels from China were involved in the search and rescue operation.
Acting Malaysian Transport Minister Hishammuddin Hussein said he had instructed all relevant agencies, including the Royal Malaysian Air Force, to work together to locate the missing plane. “Shocked thoughts and prayers with those on board,” he said. “To the family members of the passengers on board: stay calm and only get info from validated sources.”
Malaysia Airlines CEO Ahmad Jauhari Yahya said the missing airliner was carrying a total number of 239 passengers and crew. “Our team is currently calling the next-of-kin of passengers and crew. Focus of the airline is to work with the emergency responders and authorities and mobilize its full support,” he said.
Of the 239 people on board, 227 were passengers, including two infants, and the remaining 12 were crew members. A passenger list was not immediately made available, but a list of nationalities showed 153 passengers including an infant from China, 38 passengers from Malaysia, 12 passengers from Indonesia, and seven passengers from Australia.
The other passengers on board were listed as: 3 from France, 4 including an infant from the United States, 2 from New Zealand, 2 from Ukraine, 2 from Canada, 1 from Russia, 1 from Italy, 1 from Taiwan, 1 from the Netherlands, and 1 from Austria. It was not immediately clear why the list of nationalities summed up to 228 passengers.
Yahya said the pilot of the flight, identified as 53-year-old Captain Zaharie Ahmad Shah of Malaysia, was experienced with more than 18,350 flying hours, having joined the airline in 1981. The first officer was identified as 27-year-old Malaysian Fariq Ab.Hamid, having joined the airline in 2007 and accumulated more than 2,750 flying hours.
Malaysia Airlines, the flag carrier of Malaysia, has not suffered a major accident in more than 18 years. The most serious incident happened in December 1977 when Flight MH653 was hijacked and crashed near the town of Tanjung Kupang in the state of Johor, killing all 100 people on board.